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Soundtrack review: O.J. – Made in America (Gary Lionelli – 2016)

Documentary TV

Soundtrack review: O.J. – Made in America (Gary Lionelli – 2016)

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“O.J.: Made in America” is a 2016 American documentary produced and directed by Ezra Edelman for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series, which was released as a five-part miniseries and in theatrical format. The documentary explores two of America’s greatest fixations – race and celebrity – through the life of O. J. Simpson, from his emerging football career at the University of Southern California and why America fell in love with him, to being accused of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, and his subsequent acquittal, and how he was convicted and imprisoned for another crime 13 years later. The music was written by Gary Lionelli.

I know of America’s obsession with OJ and I’ve followed his life and tribulations for quite some time. I haven’t seen this documentary yet but it’s definitely on my list. I can’t even think about the movie as the main theme comes and it’s a piano undertone with a melancholic, 90s like trumpet motif above it that gets my attention instantly. There is such a distinct and memorable feeling I get from hearing a trumpet theme like this, I can almost see the skyline just before dusk when this theme is playing. It’s a theme that also makes me think of the opening title from “House of cards”, that’s where I last heard such a haunting horn melody.

There are a lot of shows where the main theme is very different in mood from the rest of the score; it’s not the case here as Gary Lionelli keeps that melancholic and somewhat dark mood going. Cues like “Family” and “Infamous” make the beginning of this score a moody trumped feast and I have been missing a score like this. The cues are short nuggets of great film music; only a handful are longer that 2 minutes and the composer makes the most of each of them; “Epic fail” is a dramatic piano and string theme that makes me feel the fall, makes me care for the character in just a couple of minutes. Rarely documentary scores aren this passionate and intense as they music tries to keep out of the way of the images but this is a story and a man about which every American has an opinion and has been having one for at least 25 year so the composer isn’t afraid that his music might swing some votes in either direction.

Me, I’m not even thinking about O.J. anymore as the music completely takes me over. How simple and wonderful a solo piano and solo cello work together in “Buffalo Baryshnikov”,a stunning gem that it alone would make the price of the score worthwhile. But it’s not alone as the composer can also make the mood darker with the tortured string of “Rockingham”. I get flashbacks of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis from the sparse string motifs in this one. Then the mood chances suddenly to more playful, still string based and I am listening to the most complex cue of the score yet.

What fascinated me the most about “O.J.: Made in America” was how emotional it was through the variety of compelling and intense cues the composer wrote; he went from haunting and effervescent orchestral to suspenseful electronic with a touch of strings to melancholic and it all made sense. The score itself told a story as complex and nuanced as the one of the man himself. There is romance, drama, tension, melancholy and regret and I get all of this from one of the best film music surprises of this year. The standalone listen is worth every second and I will be keeping my ears opened for Gary Lionelli in the future.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 44 / 70

Album excellence: 62%

Highlights:
Made in America
Family
Infamous
Epic Fall
Buffalo Baryshnikov
Rockingham
Two Worlds
Stone-Faced
When They First Met
Gun Under His Chin
Surrender in the Night
Nothing Tops This
Trial
Burn Baby Burn
Watts Riots
Beyond Football
Merely a Tool
The Closer
Last Place
Excessive Force
The n Word
Please Remember Me as a Good Guy

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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